Apple iPhone SE: What's new and should you get one?

High on usability low on price

Apple just dropped “da bomb” with the new iPhone SE last night and took the tech media and the Apple faithful by storm as the Android camp could not stop laughing.

Soon after the announcement which went out in form of press releases to the media, the internet was divided into two camps. There’s one side that went, “Oh, wow! There’s finally a small iPhone that’s priced right,” and then there was the other group which went “Are you kidding! How can Apple sell a 3 year old iPhone 8 at ₹42,500?” Clearly, folks from both of these groups come from different backgrounds, which is why there’s a difference in opinion. But before we get into that, let’s check out what’s new the way everyone saw it.

That’s a really small display… for 2020!

At 4.7-inch, it is a tiny display going by premium smartphone standards in 2020. The last time we saw such a tiny HD display was on the iPhone 8 back in 2017, because in all honesty, this is an iPhone with improved hardware… on the inside. Yes, it’s an HD display (1334x750 pixels) that is still quite sharp (326PPI) given its size. Just don’t expect it to be pixel perfect like the iPhone X or an iPhone 11 Pro. This one’s more closer to the iPhone 11 (or the XR) than the more high-end models that Apple has on sale. Those who seek nostalgia will love the small form factor, but you have to remember that an iPhone 11 Pro (or an iPhone X) pretty-much sits in the same footprint and gets you a much bigger display that stretches to the edges. So it all really depends on hand feel – do you want a smaller, slimmer iPhone or whether you want to give up streaming Netflix on this tiny display even though it supports Dolby Vision and packs in a dual stereo speaker system.

Am I supposed to place my finger on this?

Yes, Touch ID is back! Three years is a decade in a world of smartphones where technology trickles down from premium smartphones to budget devices. While the Android camp has yet to move on to a more mainstream Face ID option, the Apple camp has moved on and has gotten comfortable with it. So yes, go ahead, touch that button and watch that iPhone unlock. “This is how iPhone’s used to unlock back in the day, son!” Touch ID has its advantages and for those who were never happy with the swipy gestures of the newer iPhones will now finally be at peace.

Can it run Call of Duty: Mobile?

It’s got one of the best mobile chipsets in the industry right now and that hunk of a chipset on a smartphone with an HD display is overkill. It’s like strapping the W16 engine of a Bugatti Chiron onto Tata Nano, just that the A13 is far more power efficient than what Bugatti offers. The A13 Bionic also gets you other goodies like the ability to run augmented reality apps, powerful machine learning capabilities that will allow your camera to take good-looking portraits with a single camera (like the Pixel 3 and 3a did) and run the most graphically demanding games.

Just one camera???

Yes. That’s one 12MP camera (eyes moving from side to side). Let that just sink in for a bit...

With Android budget smartphones offering not just two but three to four cameras a lot below the iPhone SE’s price bracket, that’s a lot of faith to put in a product indeed. There’s also the fact that more cameras (at least in premium Android smartphones) do get you the flexibility to shoot whatever you want instead of the frame that you have to settle for.

But the good bit is that it can shoot Portrait photos using one camera and you can play around with Portrait Lighting effects and Depth Control just like you can on every new iPhone launched last year. There’s also 4K 60fps video and the ability to shoot with extended dynamic range at 30fps. You also get Apple’s class-leading Cinematic Video Stabilisation at all resolutions, which so far has been untouchable in the smartphone world. There’s also a paltry 7MP camera for selfies and it too features the same effects and Depth Control available on the rear camera. In short, you are getting the full package minus the flexibility of the ultra-wide and telephoto cameras. Here are a few camera samples that Apple shared with us, which clearly have been shot in the right lighting conditions. Still, they do look good and at this price tag they better be that way.

Nostalgia trip... for some

We honestly wished that Apple would have packaged the second gen iPhone SE in a case that looks more like the original. The industrial design with sharp lines and edges was quite original and clearly would have added to the nostalgia factor. Indeed, moving with a new age iPhone 8 design is why we have the SE 2 at a low price. Building smartphones ain’t magic, and you have to cut a few corners to bring the price down. In Apple’s case, revisiting the old design would have probably meant spending more on design and R&D, which in these trying times is just not possible. Still, there are plenty of us including yours truly who will appreciate the iPhone 6 generation as well and will stand in line to buy one because the iPhone 8 is still closer to the iPhone 6 than the iPhone 5.

A small phone with a tiny battery… Wait, did someone just say wireless charging?

With an A13 Bionic inside, we expect the iPhone SE to be quite efficient. One can expect a boost in battery life as well, as the current chipset in your iPhone 6S, 7 and 8 just isn’t efficient enough to get your work day’s battery life. Apple’s not revealed the capacity of the battery, but it has added wireless charging, which is hard to find even in Android smartphones in this price range. It’s still slow at standard Qi charging speeds, but at least you have it and can trickle charge it whenever it’s not in use. Oh! And since the battery is quite small, you can juice up this blast from the past up from 0 to 50% in 30 minutes using a cable.

Should I get one?

At ₹42,500 for the base 64GB variant, you will need an iCloud storage plan (₹75 for 50GB) to go on this nostalgia trip. It also comes with dual-SIM system (nano + eSIM, so the iPhone SE is prepared to take on its Android counterparts.

At this price range, expect this tiny iPhone SE to compete with devices at the low end of the premium Android smartphone range in India. That would include hard hitters like the OnePlus 7T from ₹34,999, the new OnePlus 8 (official price tag not out yet), Vivo’s new IQOO3 from ₹36,990 and the Realme X50 Pro at ₹39,999, all of which can rip apart this cute little iPhone SE spec by spec on paper.

But the question here is… does it really need to compete?

While these hard hitters fight it out in the Android realm, on the iPhone and iOS side of things, the new iPhone SE is a true winner because you can get iOS only on an iPhone. And at that, the iPhone SE is priced to go (for an iPhone) and comes with a top of the line chipset. Everyone needs a good camera and good video recording capabilities but not everyone needs those to an extent that they have to shell out a premium for it. And on the iOS side of things, that premium experience starts from ₹64,900 for the iPhone 11. So no matter which camp you come from, this is the new iPhone SE, it looks like an iPhone 8 and for many that’s as good as it gets and it can’t get any better.